Sagal Jet, arguably the most prominent publishing firm in Somaliland, has been thriving since President Muse Bihi Abdi took office. Awarded nearly 1.3 million US dollars in government contracts in just three years, it has used these profits to establish itself as the dominant publisher in an unusually short time. The government’s own National Printing Press received a diminutive $560,000 US dollars in government contracts over the same period in comparison, according to government records viewed d by Somaliland Chronicle.
President Bihi, who critics have accused of the unjust distribution of government contracts and preferential treatment of a few, has repeatedly praised Somaliland’s National Tender Board and stated that all government contracts are won through a competitive and transparent bidding process held by the National Tender Board. Somaliland Chronicle is unable to substantiate President Bihi’s claim as publicly available listing of the Tender Boards records are incomplete.
A prime example is Sagal Jet, whose CEO Mr. Abdi Yusuf Aar is a close confidant of President Bihi with unfettered access to the President and his cabinet, and who has received lucrative no-bid contracts directly from Somaliland’s Presidency. Records show that the Director General of the Presidency, Mr. Mohamed Ali Bile, has frequently requested exceptions from the National Tender Board in order to directly award Sagal Jet no-bid contracts. While the Presidency is Sagal Jet’s largest customer, other government agencies have also joined in the practice of giving considerable no-bid contracts to Sagal Jet.
One of the contracts in question was for the printing of flyers, scarfs, hats, children’s balloons, and other paraphernalia in 2020 for the 18th May Independence celebrations. This no-bid contract was worth $139,850 US dollars as per the documents reviewed.
Somaliland’s government under President Bihi has allocated more funding and made substantial upgrades to the National Printing Press by procuring high-end equipment, and building facilities; but is still outsourcing the majority of its printing needs to Sagal Jet for unknown or ambiguous reasons.
Other private printing establishments have made less than a combined $100,000 USD from the government the same period, and it’s unclear whether they lack the technical capacity to compete in governments contracts, or if Sagal Jet does indeed have a legitimate competitive advantage over other publishing firms and the National Printing Press.
What’s curious is that there is a sundry of transactions that manage to avoid meeting the required threshold for bids to go through Somaliland’s National Tender process, thus potentially circumventing Somaliland’s National Tender Board. While there is some ambiguity to the threshold amount (because of the lack of a clear-cut and defined figure being made available), the repeated small transactions we parsed through read like $9,999 Currency Transaction Report avoidance, with payments being broken down into smaller repetitive amounts.
These transactions and untendered contracts, along with Sagal Jet’s rapid rise to power in Somaliland’s publishing industry, may shed light on a system of patronage that has been the norm in many administrations but is becoming more visible under President Bihi’s administration.
The CEO of Sagal Jet, Abdi Yusuf Aar, with other prominent partners, who invested heavily in President Bihi’s election campaign, early on President Bihi’s presidency has also been widely accused of getting exclusive and lucrative contracts as a quid-pro-quo for picking the right horse.
In an administration known for closing its doors and access to even the likes of the Honourable Sheikh Ali Jawhar, one of modern-day Somaliland’s founders, Mr. Abdi Yusuf Aar has found himself with unconstrained access to the halls of Somaliland’s Presidency, and a seat at the table with close proximity to President himself.
While pay for play schemes are a regular occurrence throughout most of the democratic world, what’s concerning is the lack of oversight and accountability and the missing role of the National Tender Board. That President Bihi is able to so openly reward one of his early investors, and that these actions are in stark contradiction to the public image the President likes to portray, are a ghastly reminder that corruption has become the norm in Somaliland.
Somaliland’s nascent democracy can only flourish through transparency, accountability, and strong government institutions playing their respective roles with proper checks and balances in place. The corrupt practice of rewarding campaign contributors directly from the national coffers, thus rendering the National Tender Board a rubber-stamping agency for Somaliland’s Presidency, will have devastating effects on the Somaliland government’s continued democratization efforts.
Mr. Yusuf Abdi Aar has declined to comment on this article. Efforts to reach officials at the Presidency and other government agencies for comments were unsuccessful.